Digging For Super Soul Gold with Russell Paine
Despite the record label’s discombobulating name, SUPER DISCO EDITS isn’t hawking tired old disco edits of the same ’70s and ’80s tunes any kid with an internet connection can download from YouTube. Instead, label boss DJ Sighers – or RUSSELL PAINE (the name he uses to introduce himself when putting in a phone call to unsuspecting, but pleasantly surprised artists with unissued treasures in their closets) – has been passionately unearthing some of the tastiest, long-lost soul, funk, boogie and disco recordings never to have seen the light of day. Over the last five years, around 80 of these incredible finds have been lovingly pressed to vinyl for the first time – usually on 7 inch vinyl – each one as precious and impressive as the last.
This begs a few questions: How does Paine find these tunes? Why weren’t they released back in the day? And why on earth is the label called Super Disco Edits? Luckily this affable collector-cum-releaser and former British Rail graffitist, was happy to answer these and other burning questions with 2SER’s PARIS POMPOR. Read on to get the lowdown below. You can also listen to a 2-hour Jumping The Gap special on the label right here featuring loads of the label’s formidable catalogue.
PARIS: Tell us about how/why the Super Disco Edits label got started and what you were doing before SDE?
DJ SIGHER: I guess the label got started four or five years ago. Ideally it should have got set up maybe eight or ten years ago, but I guess in this game I was a bit unsure of myself. I questioned myself: could I actually set up a record label up? Basically it started as a bit of fun, I was just kinda mucking around doing a disco edit, believe it or not, and I was on the phone to a friend… who said: you need to release it. So I just pressed 250 of the first release which was called Troubled Children – after a graffiti crew that I started around 1988 where we were pretty naughty and went on the London Underground and did lots of trains: side-panels, whole cars, tagged, bombed – pretty crazy times funny enough. So the first release was called Dust by Troubled Children. Before that, ideally [the label] should have started a long time ago because I was the first person who found the group Wee – Norman Whiteside – and the record Try Me on Owl Records. Took me about two years to track down Mr Tom Murphy, the owner of the Owl record label, who gave me all the material and some of the acoustic versions with also some [other] records. I really should have put it out, but like I said at the time, I didn’t know how a record label worked, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know about distribution, so maybe I wasn’t ready. But I already had lots of material off different artists and primarily I just contacted them to get records really, because records are really expensive as I’m sure as your listeners know… That blossomed into hearing other material.
Before the label started, I’d always been collecting records since I was 13. I started BMXing, breakdancing, listening to electro records and discovered at a pretty young age, probably 14 or 15 years old, that these were using other records. So me and another guy from a town next to me used to get loads and loads of mailing lists. We were just looking for things like The Meters, Sly & The Family Stone, but back then to be fair, not a lot of cats were digging things that had been sampled. You know things like, The Whole Darn Family Seven Minutes Of Funk on 12 inch, Vaughan Mason Bounce Rock Skate Roll – so I’d always been buying breaks which led to producing a group called The Guttersnipes – a UK rap group – and I produced their LP called The Trials of Life, which did pretty okay in UK circles. I think quite a few copies went over to Australia which is quite nice, as I had a few nice emails from people [over there]. So I’d always been into making beats and the first Super Disco Edit release kinda came about with that urge to still try and get out some music. Once that had been done and I actually got the first release and it sold-out, it definitely spurred me on.
PARIS: I’ve loved pretty much everything you’ve released to date, but what for you is one particular release where in terms of the song itself, it stands out as being a great example of songwriting/production? Something where you thought: “this song is amazing, how could it not have seen the light of day till now”.
DJ SIGHER: Well I’ve got to admit, most records I put out I’m always like: How did this not get released? This is absolutely brilliant! Of course there are different factors at the time: sometimes groups split up, sometimes they run out of money. On the latest one, Bill Brown and The Soul Injections, their stuff got released but they got blackballed by major labels, so no shop was allowed to stock any of their records. I think back in the ‘60s and ‘70s it was a really cut-throat business run by lots of Mafia types of people because obviously there was a lot of money in records. Not like nowadays where there’s not a lot of money. But my favourite song that I’m actually proud of releasing and wondering why it didn’t get released is by James Reese & The Progressions, a track called Joker Where Did You Come From and the flip-side, He’ll Never Go. The story kinda started when I went to a record fair in London… I flicked through a box and saw this record by Marlene King which was called Throwing Stones on [the label] Najma. I thought: Wow I’ve got James Reese’s Let’s Go It’s Summertime, but I didn’t know there was anything else on Najma. It was a battered, really beat-up copy, but I played it. The singing isn’t the most amazing but the production is brilliant… Lush… So when I got home I thought I’m going to try and find James Reese, have a bit of chat to him and see what’s going on. He was great, so nice. He said, he did have quite a bit of other material. The first track he sent me was Joker Where Did You Come From. I was blown away, it was absolutely brilliant. If you’re into crossover soul, it would be up there with some of the rare records, it’s that good.
I asked him a bit about it. He got his niece, a lady called Rosalyn Foster, she was at college at the time, to sing on both tracks. She was very, very young, probably 16 or 17 years old. Basically late at night he would go into the studio, maybe that graveyard shift, and layer in strings, and horns – he’s a trombone player – layer in lots of different instrumentation on his own. It turned out absolutely beautiful. He took this record around to lots of labels. He’s out of the The Carolinas, and he took it to some of the bigger record labels, and got dismissed by every single one, basically saying it was too over produced, too well produced, too ahead of its time… Basically he got it shelved. But fortunately enough he had it on reels which he got transferred and sent to me. The files were absolutely amazing. Since then I’ve spoken to Rosalyn Foster, she’s absolutely [thrilled]. Imagine you record something at 16 and now you’re into your late ‘50s/early ‘60s maybe, and a record you recorded is coming out, it must be a super nice feeling. The record’s done really well for us. To be honest, it’s from 1974 and I could put it against any record made in 1974 and it would stand side by side… so why it got shelved is a bit of a mystery. But I’m glad it did, because it means we could release it on our record label. So it’s one of the records I’m really proud of. One of the records I can go back to and play and play and play and still never get bored of it. That’s a pretty special one… [originally earmarked for] the Najma label. James did that record with another producer, a guy called William Douglas Senior and at the time he was going out with an Indian girl whose name was Najma, so there you go, that’s how they got the label name Najma.
PARIS: I imagine some of the tunes you’ve released hold a special place in your memory/heart more because of the way you discovered them rather than just the song itself. Perhaps because of the convoluted path to tracking them down, or because of the people you met during the process. Can you tell us your favourite story about finding a tune?
DJ SIGHER: One of the record’s that’s dear to my heart is by Limmie Funk Ltd called Saturday Night’s The Night, and on the flip-side I Can’t Turn You Loose on Psycho Records. Part of my [early] digging days in Hatfield, Hertfordshire where I still live, was this secondhand record shop opened by a guy called Tom – so giving Tom a shoutout, he’s not there anymore. It was basically crammed full all kinds of genres, all secondhand. It was pretty messy, but I’d go in there every day religiously, that kind of digger/hoarder who is not wanting to miss any record that came in. I was always flipping through the 45s… with my little Soundburger record player that I took everywhere I went when I was young. One of the records I [found there] was by Limmie Funk Ltd called Saturday Night’s The Night. Absolutely loved it, so I put it on my cassette player and would play it in my car at the time. At that time, my girlfriend enjoyed it with me – her name was Nina.
So I kept going to the record shop flipping through the 45s and there was another record by Limmie Funk Ltd. This time it’s the same record, Saturday Night’s The Night, but it was a Utopia acetate and on it, it had written: “bass heavy version”. So I got that as well… When I started the Super Disco Edits label I thought that was going to be one of the good first records. I was in touch with the owner of Psycho Records, Simon Cohen way before I started the record label, he was one of the first people I tried to find. I had a look on the internet, there was a Simon Cohen who lived in County Durham – up near Newcastle I think – he was a guitar manufacturer so I though maybe it’s the same guy… Got up a bit of courage, because sometimes you need a bit to just randomly get on the phone and ring someone up – and his secretary answered and I asked: “Simon Cohen, did he ever do any music in the ‘70s?” She was like: “I think he might of actually, not sure.” So she put him on the phone straight away. He was overjoyed to hear from me, thought it was amazing that someone actually dug Saturday Night’s The Night. Of course it didn’t do very well at the time. So we connected and chatted for quite a good few years. Eventually, once I set up the record label, he came down to Croydon. We met up in a hotel: my wife and kids went along and he bought his girlfriend… He had this studio reel that he let me have and we got it transferred. Lots of nice songs on there and indeed we got the different version of Saturday Night’s The Night, but also a brilliant recording called I Can’t Turn You Loose, which is a beautiful kind of crossover stepper. It’s done really well for us.
His label was called Psycho because his name’s Simon Cohen – so that was his nickname – Si-Co. The label had offices in Soho, but he got out of the music business because he said it became very, very sour… stuff got very, very violent. He told me the story of how he knew a friend who was in charge of Black Sabbath and basically Sharon Osbourne’s dad – Don Arden… he was a music manager who would use violence to get the people he wanted. He got that group through some not very nice means… I think if you read Wikipedia he got found out for his “negotiations” and his fraudulent activities. So unfortunately Simon Cohen got out of the music [releasing] business… but he was super pleased we put out Limmie Funk Ltd. They [did have] a popular record back in the ‘70s called I Can Do Magic on Avco Records I think – probably top 10 in the UK, a pop-soul record and then Limmie Funk Ltd’s Limmie Snell went on to do this studio session with Simon Cohen [around 1978]. I think Simon said Madeline Bell might have also been involved in some of the sessions we’ve got. He was a bit sketchy on who actually played on it, I don’t think he can completely remember some of the sessions.
Why this record is also pretty dear to my heart is because going back to the young girl [Nina] who enjoyed that record in my car, I went on to marry her and she is now my wife! I know with couples out there, you’ve always got that special record that you like, so [ours is] Limmie Funk Ltd’s Saturday Night’s The Night…
PARIS: I guess the obvious question is: How the hell do you do this? How do you keep finding such amazing, formerly unreleased tracks? Is there a method to your discoveries?
DJ SIGHERS: There’s not a lot of method to finding some of these people. Basically I just love soul music I guess, so sometimes I just try and find the people whose records I really enjoy. I get to chat to them about about records and if they don’t have any unreleased material, that’s fine… but if they do have some unreleased material that’s even better!
One of the funny ones was how I ended up having the Mother Braintree and Bell Telephunk records. I had a record by C-Brand, Wired For Games – a lot of your listeners probably know that record, it’s a brilliant early ’80s boogie record. It was written by a guy called Michael Calhoun… and I think it says on it, that it’s from an LP [Note: There is no C-Brand LP.] So I thought, well if it’s from an LP maybe they’ll have some other material. So I got hold of this guy Michael Calhoun, who was out of Cleveland, Ohio. Got chatting to him thinking this was the guy who did this C-Brand Wired For Games. “Yeah I’ve got loads of other material” he said and turns out he was in the Dazz Band and I thought C-Brand was just another record he did outside of that. Well it turns out, this wasn’t even the right Michael Calhoun! This was a completely different person with the same name who happens to also be in the music industry. He recorded stuff before Dazz as Bell Telephunk… He had all these tracks so he sent me them and when I heard Love Vibrations by Bell Telphunk I thought, this is brilliant. From there, they gave me some music by some of their other friends – a guy called Wayne Preston who had this group called Mother Braintree, so we released a record by them called Sailing which did amazingly. Gilles Peterson jumped on it and absolutely loved it.
So there’s no real method.
PARIS: Your label’s name is a little misleading because the disco edits scene and the deluge of (sometimes bad) bedroom producers selling barely improved (often actually ruined) ‘70s/‘80s disco and boogie, is a million miles from what you do. What was the thinking then behind naming the label Super Disco Edits? Do you have an opinion on the otherwise, often dodgy, unlicensed/unauthorised, disco edit scene?
DJ SIGHER: [Laughs] Yeah, the dodgy Super Disco Edits label. Yeah tell me about it. If I could turn back the clocks of time, ideally I’d call it a different name, but there you go it’s done now. I’m not a big fan of the disco edits, just because there are absolutely billions, just like you said. Some of them not very good. Some of them very boring. Some of them just taking real classic records and just making them a tiny bit longer. Funnily enough, I do get emails and messages from people sending me their disco edits, because they’ve seen the name… and they haven’t really looked into the history of the record label… At the start, [my first outing] was a disco edit, but it wasn’t really. Basically it was a disco record with other bits put on top of it, to make it a little bit different. We kinda called it Super Disco Edits because it was a little play on Super Disco Breaks, the Paul Winley label out of New York… because we come from a hip hop background. And it was only a bit of fun. If I knew the record label was going to go on to some brighter and better things, maybe I would have changed it, but it’s too late now.
PARIS: SDE has very much been about vinyl to date, but you’ve now launched the digital side (super glad you did it on Bandcamp where there’s some quality control and a terrific payment model). Did you have any apprehensions about branching out into digital?
DJ SIGHER: Maybe being the sad dinosaur that I am, I’m kind of into vinyl really. I never thought of going down the digital avenue. If someone asked me for an MP3, I was like yeah, have it free, it’s fine. But then I thought to myself, it’s just that next push for the record label to take it to other people who haven’t heard about it. That’s really why I’m doing it, to get out there a little bit more. And we’ve got Bandcamp set up [recently] and to be fair we’ve got loads of new customers I’ve never heard of, who obviously don’t buy vinyl but still want MP3s of tracks. It’s been really, really good and it can only benefit the artists that I’m putting out because it can lead to hopefully more vinyl sales and people checking out what we’re doing. So I’m really pleased we’ve done it, should have done it really when the label started. You can now subscribe to Bandcamp and for 25 quid get the whole backcatalogue of everything we’ve done. But we’ve also been putting up some stuff that may have not come out on vinyl [subscriber exclusives]. We’ve got [some tunes] from Gateway, who were a group signed to Columbia, produced by Dexter Wansel. There’s a story to that: They cut a track and released it on Columbia, then they had a bit of a car accident, and all the stuff got shelved… Also we’ve got an unreleased track by the group Surface, from some of the Salsoul days, a beautiful ballad that’s a real demoish version.
The queues at pressing plants can be an absolute ball ache to be honest and as soon as Record Store Day is around the corner, all the big players – the Sonys and that – come in… and you definitely get pushed to the back. I’ve kinda been yo-yoing between MPO in France and… GZ in the Czech Republic, who seem really good. Big shout outs to [my broker] Mark Allbones at Grand Vinyl, go and hit him up if you want to get a record out.
PARIS: Aside from music, what’s something else you’re super passionate about?
DJ SIGHER: Well at the moment I love my golf, just playing loads and loads of golf. I guess I’m one of those guys, that if I’m into something, I just go for it… I guess it’s that competitiveness in me, which has stood me in good stead for doing the records… and wanting to do well at that. I’m trying to take that on to golf. I’m only a 17 handicapper, but I’m trying to get my handicap down. I love playing golf, and that’s good: it keeps you nice and fit, you know, walking around with a bag on your back for four and half hours. And you finish it off with a nice pint of Guiness!
I’ll tell you a funny story. Maybe in 1991 – I went to all the Black record fairs in London – and there was this dealer there called Steve Cura, he ran this record label called Backatcha Records. I hadn’t seen this guy for 20 years, maybe more than 20 years. I kept seeing this Steve Cura name at the golf club on some of the competitions and I thought: that can’t be the same guy, he’s not from around here, he’s from miles away. Turns out it was the same guy – brilliant! I’ve kind of reunited with a record dealer… We always see each other in the bar and still chat about records. [Back in the day] we were getting some great records, like sealed copies of Magnum for 15 pounds and multiples of it. Lyman Woodard Organisation, Irma Franklin Light My Fire, The Lost Generation – these records used to go to the States and he was telling me stories of when he went and there were thousands of copies of these sealed records. They just turned them down some of them, they couldn’t give them away back then, no one was into that sound. We’d die for them know of course. If we could turn back the hands of time… He said at the time, the first S.O.U.L album with Burning Spear on it, he couldn’t get rid of them! No one wanted them. Of course Pete Rock sampled it, and everyone wanted them.
You meet loads of nice people on the golf course!
Check out Super Disco Edits catalogue at the label’s website (a warning, you need to be quick, many of the vinyl pressings sell-out quickly, so jump on any emails you get from SDE once you sign-up)